Why Law Firms Succeed (and Fail) at Digital Marketing

by Stirling Ruuth January 6, 2016

Law firm marketing is fiercely competitive. After helping law firms successfully market themselves online for years, I know how difficult it can be to turn clicks into cases.

Over the years, it’s become clear that a few simple decisions often determine whether law firms succeed or fail in their online advertising efforts.

In my experience, if you do it right, you can spend 50% less per lead than the competition and increase your caseload by 27%. Do it wrong and you’ll be wasting 90% of your marketing budget on tactics that never produce.

After observing so many law firms crash and burn online, I thought it would be helpful to describe which online marketing choices create success (and which predict failure) in the legal industry.

What Successful Law Firms Do

Successful law firms are in touch with their target audience and connect with them where it counts.

Here’s what they do differently:

1. Understand the audience’s mindset

Depending on how you are advertising or which search terms you are using, your potential clients will respond to different messaging. After all, they have a specific problem and are often in different phases of the consumer buying cycle.

The most effective law firms understand how search terms or other targeting methods are connected to different phases of the buying cycle. For PPC, keywords like “find a lawyer” or “TBI injury help” indicate very different intent than keywords like “filing for a divorce” or “DUI laws.”

To be truly effective, you need to identify your client solution funnel and create a plan that carries potential clients from initial interest to your door.

2. Use social promotion

The more often and earlier you can connect with potential clients, the more likely they are to choose your firm. In my experience, Facebook is a particularly effective way to get your content in front of your local market.

Obviously, you will need to identify your target market and use the social media platforms they are on, but Facebook makes it easy to target and deliver high quality content based ads.

Social promotion is a great way to connect with new, existing and former clients. The more active you are on social media, the more engagement you will see from your local market, making you the law firm of choice when they (or someone they know) needs legal help.

3. Take advantage of as many advertising channels as possible

Again, the more touches you can have with potential clients (or current clients), the more effective your advertising will be.

Ideally, remarketing campaigns would be a great way to stay in front of people who have expressed an interest in your firm, but the sensitive nature of the legal industry often makes it difficult to get remarketing lists approved. In particular, remarketing lists built from Health-, Financial- or Relationship-based campaigns are rarely approved for remarketing.

Instead, successful firms use other—more readily approved—marketing channels to stay in front of their audience.

For example, Google offers Display Select Keywords (formerly Search Companion Marketing) ads that let you target certain keywords and show ads on Google’s Display Network when a user searches but doesn’t click on your ad. Intent is still strong, but a specific strategy needs to be created to see the best ROI from those campaign types.

Regardless of the specific solutions, the more you stay in front of potential clients, the more likely you are to secure their business.

4. Match the message with the problem

Remember, every marketing campaign needs dedicated advertising and landing pages.

This should be a no brainer, but I still see personal injury (or other) ads that take you to a home page that detail every legal service offered by the firm. Great law firm advertising keeps things simple for the potential client.

If they click on a personal injury ad, they should end up on a landing page that is focused on personal injury legal services. Anything else is a confusing distraction that will reduce the effectiveness of your marketing.

5. Find professional help

I’ll admit that I’m biased, but after helping numerous law firms dig themselves out of an online marketing pit, I’ve come to believe that most law firms are best off sticking to what they’re great at: legal services.

I know there are the occasional exceptions, but most law firms lack the time, attention and manpower to really succeed in the highly competitive world of online advertising.

If there is something you do not understand, reach out to a real pro. Someone who understands the digital landscape and can help your law firm navigate some of the pitfalls associated with PPC, SEO and social media.

Ideally, you’d probably be best off hiring me (and Disruptive Advertising) but—like I said—I’m a little biased.

Regardless of who you choose to help manage your online campaigns, you’ll want to work with them to create a strategy and develop a roadmap. From there, you have a right to expect them to execute on that roadmap, demonstrate progress and perform every step of the way.

What Successful Law Firms Avoid

Amongst all of the “do’s,” there are also a lot of “don’ts” that effective legal industry marketers avoid.

1. The “one message will work for everyone” assumption

In online marketing, one size does not fit all. Generalizing your messaging or call-to-action across various campaigns is a great way to waste a lot of money.

The most effective law firm marketers target their messaging to the needs and mindset of each audience. And then, they test everything.

The combination of specific targeting and ongoing testing is what allows you to create the kind of message that speaks directly to your target audience. The more they resonate with your messaging, the more likely they are to become a client.

2. Taking the competition for granted

At Disruptive, we’ve worked in a variety of legal industry markets across the country and—no matter where you’re trying to advertise—the competition is intense.

Las Vegas, for example, is one of the most competitive markets in the country for Bankruptcy, Personal Injury, Divorce (as you can imagine) and DUI law.

If you want to advertise effectively, it’s critical to understand your competition. Which terms are they advertising on? Which channels are they using? What sort of ads are they running? And, most importantly, how can you effectively differentiate yourself.

With all the competition in the legal industry, the only way to come out on top is to know your competition—and how to beat them.

3. Completely abandoning offline marketing

Although the internet can be a huge source of clients for your firm, it’s important not to forget the importance of offline and traditional media channels.

While offline and traditional advertising channels may not offer the wealth of targeting and tracking options that come with online advertising, they are still a crucial part of building (and reinforcing) your local brand.

Even if no sees your billboard or mail out and decides to call your firm, running conventional ads creates familiarity—when they do go online, they will be much more likely to click on your ads and convert.

4. Overthinking digital marketing

There is a lot of noise in the digital marketing space. Every “guru” has some new secret to success or “best practice” that you should be using.

My ego isn’t big enough to style myself a “guru,” but in my experience, you are best off keeping things simple. Successful online marketing all comes down to nailing the basics.

Provide valuable content, reach potential clients by being where they are and match their problem with your solution. Be great at those three things and you’ll get the kind of results you’re looking for.

5. Throwing spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks

Ultimately, online marketing success all comes down to strategy and focus. If you’re advertising everywhere just to make sure you are “taking advantage of as many advertising channels as possible”, you are shooting yourself in the foot.

If you don’t have a great strategy in place for a social platform or ad network, don’t run content on it! Find the networks your target market is on, then proceed to nail it and scale it.

Once you own your key social platforms and ad networks, use what works from those forums to enter additional channels. That way, your advertising will always be as effective as possible.


Advertising online for the legal industry is both competitive and expensive, which leaves little room for error.

After working in this industry for years, I’ve found that the most effective law firms all understand their target audience, know where and how to speak to potential clients and do a great job of matching their message to their potential clients’ needs.

On the other hand, far too many law firms struggle to get great results from their online advertising because they use a “one size fits all” approach. They don’t take the time or develop the expertise necessary to really understand their potential clients and instead end up spending a lot of money on the wrong sort of advertising.

If you’d be interested in having me look at your digital marketing strategy, let me know here or in the comments. I’d love to help you start using your online marketing dollars to full effect.

Well, that’s it from me. What’s worked (or hasn’t worked) for your law firm?

  • Marketing

Stirling Ruuth

Stirling Ruuth

Stirling is an account strategist team lead at Disruptive Advertising. When he's not catching the latest episode of Duck Dynasty, you can find him chopping wood, smoking meats, and growing beards.

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